Edmund (“Ted”) Snow Carpenter (1922 – 2011)


This 9-page article is the best account of Ted Carpenter’s life and career that I’ve come across. Please follow the link at the bottom to read the whole thing. There is a bibliography at the end.

By Ellen Harold

Multifaceted anthropologist Edmund (“Ted”) Snow Carpenter is an ethnologist, archaeologist, filmmaker, and communications theorist. An authority on the Arctic peoples of the circumpolar regions, their art and archaeology, he has also studied and written about the peoples and art of New Guinea, Borneo, and Tibet. He was, in addition, a leading figure in the Toronto School that developed modern communications studies and a pioneer in the visual anthropology movement that used film to document cultures. He is or has been, in addition, a broadcaster, producer, film-maker, exhibition curator, and author, whose interests encompass tribal, surrealist, and modern art. In his capacity as an administrator and as an editor he has shown tireless generosity in collaborating with and helping other scholars, even to the point where his own contributions have been somewhat obscured. In compiling the following profile we are particularly indebted to Harald E.L. Prins and John Bishop’s first portrait, “Edmund Carpenter: Explorations in Media & Anthropology,” published in Visual Anthropology Review in 2002. We also wish to thank Ted Carpenter and Adelaide De Menil Carpenter for their assistance and feedback.

Carpenter was born in 1922 in Rochester, New York, where his father was an art teacher. His interest in prehistoric archaeology began in childhood, when he and his twin brother and cousins dug for Indian relics near their parents’ summer home at Gull Lake, Michigan. When Carpenter was 13, Arthur C. Parker, director of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and himself a Seneca Indian, invited him to spend weekends on a WPA-sponsored excavation of prehistoric Iroquoian sites in the Upper Allegheny Valley.

In 1940 Carpenter enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study with pioneering anthropologist Frank Speck (1980–1950), who advocated documenting cultures through multiple media, including imaginative literature, visual art, cinema, and photography. In an interview years after Speck’s death Carpenter paid tribute to Speck’s humanistic outlook, declaring that, “even now he remains my guide, my fond companion, my guardian spirit” (quoted in Harald Prins and John Bishop, Visual Anthropology Review 17, no 2 [2001–2002], p. 112).

Between his freshman and sophomore years in the summer of 1941 the nineteen-year- old Carpenter worked as foreman of a WPA-CCC crew excavating Pennsylvania Indian mounds. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Marine Corps, continuing to write papers on indigenous Pennsylvania ethnography during wartime. During the occupation of Japan he served as Judge Advocate, COM-MARIANAS, and also supervised the work of some 500 prisoners of war in excavating local archaeological sites. In 1946, he was discharged from the army with the rank of captain. He received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania for service-related courses and experience and was appointed an instructor in anthropology at Penn. In 1948, he was hired to teach anthropology at the University of Toronto and two years later received his Ph. D. from Penn for his dissertation on the pre-history of northeastern America. He married and had two sons. To support his family and fund his researches he took a series of second jobs, finally finding a niche as a broadcaster on Canadian educational radio and television (then newly invented), an experience that gave him an insider’s perspective on the new electronic media.

Inspired by Innis and also (and especially) by Dorothy Lee’s ideas about literacy and linear thinking, as well as by Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir’s hypothesis on the influence of language structure on patterns of thought and behavior, Carpenter and McLuhan began co-teaching a course on the new media. In 1951, McLuhan published The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951) about the relationship of orality, literacy, and technology. Then, with the help of a Ford Foundation grant, the two men founded an interdisciplinary project, Changing Patterns of Language and Behavior and the New Media of Communication (overseen by McLuhan). This gave rise to their joint editorship of the eclectic journal of communications Explorations (1953–59), in whose pages McLuhan first formulated some of the ideas elaborated later in his books, but never, some think, more accessibly than in these early writings. Selected articles from the magazine (with contributions by Ray L. Birdwhistell, Northrop Frye, Fernand Leger, McLuhan, Gilbert Seldes, Jean Shepherd, and D.T. Suzuki among others) were reprinted in book form as Explorations in Communications, an Anthology (1960). According to the preface:

Explorations explores the grammars of such languages as print, the newspaper format and television. It argued that revolutions in packaging and distribution of ideas and feelings modified not only human relations but also sensibilities. It further argued that we are largely ignorant of literacy’s role in shaping Western man [and woman], and equally unaware of the role of electronic media in shaping modern values. Literacy’s vested interests were so deep that literacy itself was never examined. And the current electronic revolution is already so pervasive that we have difficulty in stepping outside of it and scrutinize it objectively. But it can be done, and a fruitful approach is to examine one medium through another.(Preface, p. ix)

Read the rest at https://tinyurl.com/sonhhzf


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